For years, doctors strongly recommended that women do breast self-exams each month at home. But now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says no more: the research suggests it’s simply not a reliable way to screen for potential breast cancer. That said, if you’re already in the habit of checking your breasts each month, you have the skills to practice what the experts now recommend: breast awareness.
Simply put, breast awareness is knowing your own body — that is, knowing what “normal” looks and feels like for your breasts. Your doctor can give you a demonstration of how to do it during your Well Woman exam (aka your annual OB-GYN exam). The Mayo Clinic’s instructions for breast awareness are pretty straightforward: Once a month, inspect your breasts visually in a mirror to look for any changes in size or shape, as well as any puckering, dimpling, or inversion of the nipples. Experts also recommend you use the pads of your fingers to apply varying pressure as you touch the entirety of your breasts, both in the shower or lying down in bed.
According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Women’s Health, about 40% of breast cancers are discovered by the patients themselves. So if you do notice any significant differences from month to month, especially if you feel a lump or see bloody nipple discharge, get it checked out by a physician as soon as possible.